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Author Topic: Shooting Surreptitiously  (Read 894 times)

Chris Kern

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Shooting Surreptitiously
« on: May 28, 2018, 10:05:54 am »

Interesting essay by Australian photographer Philip Sutton on making street photographs surreptitiously.  He describes three principal techniques—using a tilt-screen at waist-level to avoid eye-contact, switching to an electronic shutter so noise won't give you away, and, when there's no way to conceal what you're doing, composing while pretending to be chimping—all of which I've tried from time to time, especially when shooting indoors, with varying success.  (The attached pictures of the fast-food restaurant in Washington and the neighborhood restaurant in Kyoto both employed the waist-level technique, and I snapped the one of the bakery in San Miguel de Allende while pretending to be chimping a shot I had just made of items on a display shelf.)

Sutton also discusses a couple of his ground rules for when not to intrude on subjects.  These are somewhat specific to the places in East Asia where he shoots, but I think anybody who makes pictures of strangers probably should decide on a policy in advance.  My number one rule: never publicly display images of young children where their faces are identifiable without their parents' consent.

Below:

(1) Fast Food, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
(2) Mom and Pop Restaurant, Kyoto, Japan
(3) Bakery on Calle Recreo, San Miguel de Allende, México

Two23

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Re: Shooting Surreptitiously
« Reply #1 on: May 28, 2018, 10:25:54 am »

I have used a Nikon D5300 with swivel screen for some shots, and sometimes a Rolleiflex TLR to avoid eye contact.  Any more though, people seem to be either not paying attention or playing with their phone.  Generally I try to use a small camera with smaller lenses.  Large cameras (such as my D800E) seem to put people on edge.  As for photo'ing children, you do have to be careful about that in this age.  Everyone is afraid of perverts, I guess.  I generally talk to the parents and get their OK.  I'm a salesrep type who has no problem talking to strangers and gaining a fast rapport.  Here's a shot I took yesterday at a rodeo.  I used a Nikon D800E and a Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR--the opposite of what I've just suggested.  I was shooting rodeo action and didn't have time to change lenses.  The kids' parents didn't mind in this small Western town.


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RSL

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Re: Shooting Surreptitiously
« Reply #2 on: May 28, 2018, 10:27:41 am »

Hi Chris, I like your pictures, especially #3. But I don't understand why you feel you couldn't simply lift the camera to your eye and shoot in all of these cases. That's what I'd have done, and nobody would have noticed that I did it. It's easy to get all clanked up about surreptitiousness when you're shooting street, but if you don't act threateningly, and do your stuff quietly, chances are nobody's going to bother you. With digital you've got it made. If somebody notices that you shot a picture, show it to them on your camera and offer to email them a copy.
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Two23

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Re: Shooting Surreptitiously
« Reply #3 on: May 28, 2018, 10:44:04 am »

Hi Chris, I like your pictures, especially #3. But I don't understand why you feel you couldn't simply lift the camera to your eye and shoot in all of these cases. That's what I'd have done, and nobody would have noticed that I did it. It's easy to get all clanked up about surreptitiousness when you're shooting street, but if you don't act threateningly, and do your stuff quietly, chances are nobody's going to bother you. With digital you've got it made.

Exactly.  Sometimes doing it the sneaky way escalates the tension.  Another thing I've noticed is that if I use an ultra wide lens I can take photos of people very close by and they don't realize they are in the shot.


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Chris Kern

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Re: Shooting Surreptitiously
« Reply #4 on: May 28, 2018, 11:02:49 am »

But I don't understand why you feel you couldn't simply lift the camera to your eye and shoot in all of these cases.

Most of the time, that's what I do.  Often it works; not always.  The issue arises when people know they're being photographed.  Outdoors, there are other distractions and, in many of the places where I'm shooting, other people using cameras ("real" ones as well as cellphones).  In confined interior spaces, a lone photographer is more conspicuous—at least in my experience.  I've rarely had anybody object, but on numerous occasions the picture I wanted has been ruined by subjects mugging for the camera.  Once they become aware of what I'm up to, they either stare directly at the lens instead of going about doing whatever they were doing, or smirk like they were posing for a family photograph.  Maybe I need to invest in an invisibility cloak.
« Last Edit: May 28, 2018, 11:15:44 am by Chris Kern »
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Two23

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Re: Shooting Surreptitiously
« Reply #5 on: May 28, 2018, 11:13:11 am »

.... but on numerous occasions that picture I wanted has been ruined by subjects mugging for the camera.  Once they become aware of what I'm up to, they either stare directly at the lens instead of going about doing whatever they were doing, or smirk like they were posing for a family photograph. 


I think I know what you mean. :P


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RSL

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Re: Shooting Surreptitiously
« Reply #6 on: May 28, 2018, 11:27:37 am »

Once they become aware of what I'm up to, they either stare directly at the lens instead of going about doing whatever they were doing, or smirk like they were posing for a family photograph.  Maybe I need to invest in an invisibility cloak.

That's precisely the problem, Chris. If they see you shooting them it's all over. At that point you're either going to get a posed picture, which isn't street, or nothing, which also isn't street. I try to do the Shadow's thing (if you're old enough to know who the Shadow was), and "cloud men's minds" by acting nonchalant. Damned hard to do with women, but maybe that's because I'm too handsome (though I doubt it).
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Ivo_B

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Re: Shooting Surreptitiously
« Reply #7 on: May 28, 2018, 11:43:20 am »

I usually keep my camera on the eye few seconds after I made the shot, or I look at a spot far behind the persons. This gives the impression they are not the subject. It works in most of the case and it works better if you are close and working with 24mm of wider. Sometimes  they turn around and look behind to see what is so interesting I'm shooting. :-)
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RSL

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Re: Shooting Surreptitiously
« Reply #8 on: May 28, 2018, 11:53:47 am »

Well, I certainly wouldn't jerk the camera away from my eye after the shot, but keeping it up to my eye would be a mistake. The most important thing is to move smoothly, not jerkily.
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Slobodan Blagojevic

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Re: Shooting Surreptitiously
« Reply #9 on: May 28, 2018, 11:59:23 am »

Surreptitiously or not, but I got to ask what was the point of shooting those pictures in the first place? Are you building a portfolio, documenting the banalities of everyday life?

Chris Kern

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Re: Shooting Surreptitiously
« Reply #10 on: May 28, 2018, 12:03:55 pm »

Surreptitiously or not, but I got to ask what was the point of shooting those pictures in the first place? Are you building a portfolio, documenting the banalities of everyday life?

I'm not sure who that was directed to, but I'm an amateur who shoots whatever happens to catch my eye, wherever I happen to be, purely for my own amusement — and, hopefully, that of anyone else who enjoys seeing my photographs.

Chris Kern

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Re: Shooting Surreptitiously
« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2018, 12:38:58 pm »

on numerous occasions the picture I wanted has been ruined by subjects mugging for the camera.  Once they become aware of what I'm up to, they either stare directly at the lens instead of going about doing whatever they were doing, or smirk like they were posing for a family photograph.

Conversely, I've also occasionally encountered subjects who saw exactly what I was doing but remained at least visibly oblivious to the fact that they were being photographed.

Attachments:
  • Charles Bridge, Prague.  This is actually a cityscape with a person in it, but in my opinion he makes the photograph work.  This guy saw me pointing the camera at him, looked down and stared at me intently for a few seconds, then went back to gazing at the river with exactly the same expression that had caught my eye in the first place.  And he remained motionless in that position long after I snapped the shutter.  I wonder what he was thinking about?
  • Mariachi.  Another photo from San Miguel de Allende.  I was standing very close to the lead singer for this Mariachi band and pointing my camera directly at him while I waited for the right moment to make the shot, but we were in the city's main public venue ("el Jardín", as they call the central plaza in San Miguel) and he obviously was accustomed to being photographed.  This is really just a tourist snapshot, but it's another example of a subject who did not change his behavior just because of the presence of a camera.

Slobodan Blagojevic

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Re: Shooting Surreptitiously
« Reply #12 on: May 28, 2018, 12:58:16 pm »

I'm not sure who that was directed to, but I'm an amateur who shoots whatever happens to catch my eye, wherever I happen to be, purely for my own amusement — and, hopefully, that of anyone else who enjoys seeing my photographs.

Yes, it was directed to you, but it was an honest question, no malicious intent or mocking. Just genuinely curious what caught your eye in the Mc Donald’s restaurant, for instance, or the other two in the OP?

Chris Kern

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Re: Shooting Surreptitiously
« Reply #13 on: May 28, 2018, 01:35:37 pm »

Just genuinely curious what caught your eye in the Mc Donald’s restaurant, for instance, or the other two in the OP?

Well, as best I remember . . .

I was eating lunch in the McDonald's outlet in the Air and Space Museum, and watching the patrons lining up to order through the viewfinder of my camera rather than reading a newspaper on my cellphone.  The mother, daughter, and grandmother walked in from the museum exhibit area and stopped just beyond the entrance.  When the mother and daughter simultaneously pointed at the display signs, I snapped the shutter.  Lucky grab shot.

My wife and I found that little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Kyoto while exploring the back alleys in the Gion district (I think: I had forgotten to take my little GPS gadget with me, so I don't know for certain where I made that picture), and we decided to have an early dinner.  We were almost the only patrons in the place, but the husband-and-wife owners were extremely busy preparing for what I presume they hoped would be a big evening crowd.  I kept the camera on them for quite a while, waiting for a moment when the owners and the other patrons came into alignment the way I wanted.  It almost worked, but I'd be lying if I claimed that is a striking image.

Each evening while we were visiting San Miguel, we would stop at this little bakery and pick up something for breakfast the next morning.  The place is very popular so there was always a long queue, but I didn't mind because I enjoyed watching the staff through a window behind the counter as they worked in the kitchen.  That particular evening I had stuffed a point-and-shoot camera in my pocket rather than carry my interchangeable-lens camera because the only purpose of the walk from our hotel a couple of blocks away was to go to the bakery.  I took the camera out and actually did photograph some of the baked good in the display case, then, while pretending to be chimping, made a few pictures of the bakers.

Probably more than you wanted to know, wot?
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